Science & Nature

Nov 1, 2017


In 2014, with only 19 years, Dutch Boyan Slat found a possible solution to clean half of the Pacific Ocean within ten years. Slat's plan consists in a floating barrier which takes advantage of the oceanic tides producing a kind of trench that blocks the garbage found in the water.



Boyan Slat, currently with 22 years, is a Dutch engineering student who combined environmentalism, creativity and technology to solve global issues of sustainability. He worked on developing a device called Ocean Cleanup Array, capable of clear plastic flows in the oceans, which has accumulated more than 7 million tons of the material.

One of the main obstacles is that there are no pictures of the places most polluted waterways, making it difficult to choose where to operate, since the plastic elements are spread over millions of square kilometers. The machine works as a filter, collecting all the floating material, which is then stored in containers to be picked up for recycling.

Although it is still a prototype, the young man has already set up The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, a non-profit organization that is responsible for the development of the proposed technologies. This invention can help save hundreds of thousands of aquatic animals and reduce pollutants that integrate into the food chain.

There are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the oceans of the entire planet, which is estimated to weigh over 250 million tons. But there are some areas where the problem is especially troubling. The "Great Pacific Garbage Patch", located north of the Pacific Ocean between the West coast of the USA and Japan. The field, discovered in 1997, lives up to the title of "giant waste dump", concentrating most of the plastic that is released into the oceans.

Garbage islands

In this area, the debris come to form Islands, where you can walk. This is possible because the converging ocean currents which act in the region move in circles, causing massive "swirls" (called vortexes). Thus, the trash released in various parts of the planet just in these islands, causing huge losses in life of the oceans, preventing photosynthesis of marine organisms and killing wildlife that ingests the plastic.

According to Boyan Slat his invention will allow the removal of half of the plastic from Great Pacific Garbage Patch in just five years.

How? Surrounding the garbage at sea with huge barriers, made of high-density polyethylene. Resistant and malleable, the structures are perfect for the job: firm enough not to let any piece of plastic, and mobile enough to be taken from one place to another by the waters of the Pacific. After concentrated in one place, the debris is collected with the help of boats, once a month.

To accumulate a greater amount of waste, the inventor intends to put screens of TPU (material used to make mobile phone covers) under the barriers. These screens are placed at a depth that does not interrupt the dynamics of marine currents, and can thus be easily circumvented by fish.

Barriers need not be stuck at the bottom of the oceans. On the contrary, the anchors that keeps floating are not fretted, afloat in deeper water – about 600 meters from the surface. As they sink, pressure and density increase, which causes the browsing speed of anchors is smaller than on the surface.

This prevents the waterslide moves faster than trash. Following the rhythm of the anchor, the system ends up going up to four times more slowly than it would if it were fixed, collecting plastic more efficiently. To prevent the garbage taken in days of stronger waves, anchors must be robust.

Gigantic cord

Slat's initial idea was to create a single giant cord, with 96.5 km long. Later, the project was changed to 50 structures of just under 1 km each. All to take fewer risks. If one of them fails, for example, there are 49 other firm and strong in the work to stop the ocean trash.

The first 1 km prototype is being tested and it is estimated that the entire project will be ready as early as 2018. The costs are estimated at 320 million dollars.

The concept of Slat – according to the inventor – uses natural ocean tides and winds to carry the plastic for a collection platform. Instead of using nets and boats to remove the plastic in the water, floating solid barriers are used to make the interlacing. The initiative has the support of more than 100 researchers and environmentalists, that intend to remove 65 cubic meters of garbage per day.

With a website that shows the entire procedure, Slat makes a "virtual Kitty" to put his plan into action. The value of 2 million dollars is high, but in just two weeks, the young man managed to gather 34% of the amount with donations ranging from about $5 to $10000.

The bacteria that "eats" plastic

According to recent studies, it is likely that in 2050 there is more plastic than fish in the oceans. Gladly, there are people concerned about the pollution in the oceans, and thereby, a bacterium was developed by students Miranda Wang and Yao Jeanne.

The research began in high school, and today they already have two patents, a company and about 400,000 dollars of investment.

With five awards, the pair were famous for being the youngest to win the Perlman prize of Science. All due to the prototype of bacteria able to transform plastic into CO² and water. The technology has been used in two ways: the first, to clean beaches; and the second, to produce raw material for the production of fabrics.

In a first step the plastic is dissolved and then the catalyzing enzymes break down the plastic components into pieces more malleable. These components, by their turn, are placed in a tank station, where everything will be turned into compost. The process takes only 24 hours to happen.

Contacts * * De Torenhove * Martinus Nijhofflaan 2 - 18th floor – 2624 ES Delft * The Netherlands

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